Changes for 2012 include a new 6-speed automatic for the gas engines, new steering wheel controls, a RamBox option for short beds, a CNG (compressed natural gas) version for fleet buyers, a black front end on ST. An updated MaxTow package was introduced mid-2011. Two Power Wagon models join the range for 2012. Ram was thoroughly revised for 2010.
The 2012 Ram Hemi comes with a new 6-speed automatic very similar to what the diesel has used for years. Ram's 5.7-liter Hemi gasoline engine is nearly as powerful as Super Duty's 6.2-liter gas engine. The optional Cummins turbodiesel met current emissions requirements years ago and unlike the diesel engines from both Ford and GM, the Ram does not require a fuel additive for emissions control. Only the Ram offers a choice of transmissions with the diesel. With Ford and GM you get the automatic. Some drivers prefer a manual for durability and will cite examples of failed automatics. Some prefer an automatic for easy operation. Our preference varies by application, though we'll usually go for the automatic. Manuals work well for snowplowing.
Ram HD rides well and cruises quietly by traditional heavy-duty pickup standards but not by luxury car standards. We found a Ram 3500 rode very nicely while towing a 6,000-pound trailer. Ram is available in a range of trim levels and with a long list of features, including heated/ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, Sirius Backseat TV.
The most capable Ram HD pickups will carry more than 5,000 pounds or tow more than 22,500 pounds. Other pickups may better those tow ratings, but whether they actually tow any better is another story. Also, heavy trailers like that require a different driver's license in some states.
The Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty models compete with Ford Super Duty, Chevrolet Silverado HD, and GMC Sierra HD pickups. Ram HD shares interior elements and styling cues with Ram 1500 models, though they are not identical.
The Ram Heavy Duty models will work for anyone who has work to do, be it hauling construction tools and materials, plowing driveways or dragging around big trailers. They remain a compelling choice for anyone in need of a heavy-duty pickup truck.
Chrysler no longer refers to its full-size pickup as the Dodge Ram. It's now just the Ram. We may still refer to the Ram as a Dodge, however, because we haven't figured out how to change a model name to a brand name.
Ram 2500 comes standard with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and 6-speed automatic, no manual is offered. The optional Cummins 6.7-liter turbodiesel is available with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. On most Ram HD models, 4WD adds about $3,000.
Ram 3500 models come standard with the Cummins diesel, so prices appear high relative the competition's HDs which come standard with a gasoline engine.
Ram ST models are commercial-grade: black bumpers, grille and mirrors, crank windows on regular cab (power windows and locks on others), vinyl 40/20/40 seat, steel wheels and a manual-shift transfer case on 4WD. Vinyl floor covering is standard and can be ordered in place of carpet on all but Laramie models. Ram ST comes standard with an automatic transmission, 34-gallon fuel tank, air conditioning, Class IV hitch (optional in Canada) with 4/7-pin plugs, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, locking tailgate and tilt steering wheel. Options for Ram ST are plentiful, including a diesel engine (which adds front tow hooks and cruise control), power heated or towing mirrors (but not powered towing mirrors), integrated trailer brake controller, sliding rear window, floor mats, cloth upholstery, DVD/HDD and Sirius audio, limited-slip differential, skid plates, various option groups, and choices for wheels, tires and axle ratios. The RamBox is optional ($1295).
Ram SLT adds chrome, heated power mirrors, remote keyless entry, power windows (includes rear window on four-doors), carpeting, cloth upholstery, cruise control, Sirius radio, electric-switched transfer case, chrome wheels, in-dash tire-pressure display (2500 only) and the integrated trailer brake controller. Some notable SLT options are fog lamps, heated power towing mirrors, forged aluminum wheels, bucket seats and console, power seats, adjustable pedals and driver memory system, moonroof, navigation, Uconnect phone, remote start, back-up camera, security system, and rear park assist.
Ram Outdoorsman is a package for Ram 2500 and 3500 models based on an SLT luxury package with some additional extras. Standards include gray painted bumpers and fender flares, two-tone paint, body-color grille/black insert, fog lights, power folding/heated mirrors with signals, HomeLink, mud/slush floor mats, 115-VAC outlet, power split-bench seat, leather-wrapped wheel, LT265/70R17E on/off-road tires on forged aluminum wheels, security system, limited-slip differential, tow hooks, and remote start. Primary options are a moonroof and electronics: navigation, rear camera and/or park sensors, UConnect.
Ram Big Horn and Ram Lone Star editions are packages based on a Ram SLT.
Power Wagon models come in 2500 Crew Cab gas engine 4WD only and gets electric locking front and rear differentials, a front antisway bar disconnect, specific suspension with Bilstein shocks, 32-inch BFGoodrich off-road tires, a 12,000-lb Warn winch, skid plates, 4.56:1 gears, more lighting and two-tone paint and graphics. Three trim levels parallel the ST, SLT and Laramie trim (and most options) of other HD Rams.
Ram Laramie adds more chrome, power adjustable pedals and heated mirrors on driver memory system, dual-zone climate control, 115-VAC outlet, universal door opener, 10-way/6-way power heated leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, nine-speaker DVD/HDD surround-sound audio, rear park sense, and security system. Laramie upgrades are generally limited to chrome packages, towing mirrors, skid plates, rear window defroster, heated/ventilated power bucket seats with floor console, moonroof, navigation, rearview camera and wheel and axle ratio choices.
Laramie Limited is a fancier take on the previous Longhorn. Crew Cab only, it adds to a Laramie with Natura Plus piped and French-stitched leather upholstery, leather on the dash and door panels, piano-black trim, Berber floor mats, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, leather-wrapped shift knob, navigation with SiriusXM Travel Link, rear camera and spray in bed liner. Options are few: skidplates, axle ratio, limited-slip differential, alternate wheel finishes and rear seat entertainment system.
Safety features on all HD Rams include dual front multi-stage airbags, side curtain airbags, adjustable height front belts, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, anti-lock brakes on all wheels, and tire-pressure monitors (2500 only).
With a forward tilt to the grille and an upward, inward point to the headlights, grille and bumper the heavy-duty nose looks like a stout blunt instrument, rather like the point on an anvil.
While the style and lights are from the 1500 only the latter are the same parts. The HD's grille is larger to allow more cooling air in, the bumper is reshaped, and the hood has a larger central bulge and faux louver contouring, but the easiest way to distinguish the HD from the 1500 is the gap above the bumper; the 1500 has no such gap.
Ram HD Crew Cab is comparable to competitor crew cabs in size and is about the same size as the Crew Cab Ram 1500. The Ram HD Crew Cab has four forward-hinged doors. (The Crew Cab replaced the old Quad Cab.)
The ultra-long Mega Cab uses the same rear doors as the Crew but adds inches behind the doors.
Crew Cab and Mega Cab both come with a 6-foot, 4-inch box. It doesn't look that long behind the imposing Mega Cab but it is; you can not get a Mega Cab long-bed as it would be a unwieldy anywhere outside the Great Plains.
Dual rear wheel models (DRW), including the Mega Cab, use a single outside panel for the wide rear fenders to eliminate seams and fasteners that might prove problematic long term. And the bed sides are steel, for easier straightening than fiberglass if you ding one.
In terms of sleekness, the Ram slots between the GM HD and Ford Super Duty pickups: Perceptively bigger and more angular than the Silverado HD yet smoother than the Super Duty. Very mild fender flares of various colors are used on some trims. Power Wagon models get a graphics package and flat, dark paint for the center of the hood.
Roof clearance lamps, government-mandated for vehicles like dual-rear-wheel pickups that exceed a certain width, use clear lenses for a better-integrated look. Upper trim level mirrors have puddle lamps, and the towing mirrors have turn signal repeaters and a separately adjustable, much larger wide-angle element at the bottom (in tow position); in the retraced position the outboard wide-angle element is very useful in traffic, tight trails and parking areas as you can view both rear tires. Worth noting, you can adjust the electric mirrors without having the truck switched on. The towing mirrors are superb, providing an excellent view rearward.
For 2012, the RamBox previously offered only on the Ram 1500 has been lengthened to fit the 6-foot, 4-inch bed on Ram HD. The RamBox houses large lockers along the top of each bed-side for stowing anything that will fit, including fishing rods and long-handle shovels or about a gross of your favorite beverage cans on ice. At $1295 it is less expensive than earlier versions, although it reduces load capacity (e.g., maximum payload for Power Wagon drops from 1880 pounds to 1690 pounds with the RamBox).
A tailgate lock is standard. However, the tailgate is not heavily damped, so it will with a thud if you just let it go. On trucks with rearview cameras, the lens is far enough from the latch so you won't scratch it opening the gate, and it gets decent protection and snow/ice rejection from the tailgate's upper lip. Bed rails are protected from load scuffing, and the bed is contoured for 2x4s and 2x6s to make it dual-level. A spray-in bedliner is a factory option.
On trucks with satellite service for audio or navigation, the antenna is on the right rear of the roof. It should be safe from contact with contractor racks or cabover campers (though those pieces may block the antenna's ability to receive signals).
The paint palette for Ram HD is a few shades better than average, with some very bright colors that mimic Mopar musclecars like Hills Green (looks like SubLime Green), fire safety lime yellow (one of four yellows), and Case construction equipment yellow. Where Ram offers 24 colors for a generic SLT regular cab, a similar Ford offers 11 and GM 9.
Materials and trim are appropriate by model line, be they the base truck or a Laramie Limited Mega Cab with Ram's head embosses on the seatbacks and console. We found no fit-and-finish issues. The Laramie's fake wood looks just like real wood and gloss surfaces generate no glare to bother the occupants. Although a vinyl floor is standard on only the base ST model you can order it with a more upscale interior if it's only your boots that get filthy. Thick mats designed for muck and slush are standard on the Outdoorsman but you can get the same pieces through Mopar accessories.
The Regular Cab has plenty of room for two people, three across if you don't mind the floor hump. The biggest guy we could find who claimed to be 325 on a good day had no qualms about space.
The Crew Cab offers essentially the same space in the front seat as the Regular Cab but provides a roomy back seat. Most Crew Cabs have a split folding rear seat and a center armrest, and all of them have three complete baby seat anchor sets and three adjustable headrests. The back seats flip up for cargo space. If you like to remove the rear seats for cargo storage you're left with a stepped floor. Coat hooks are above the rear window. The rear window can be powered open/close or replaced with a defrost-able window on most models.
The Mega Cab is nine inches longer than the Crew Cab. It has an extra five inches of legroom plus space behind the reclining seatback, and with the seats folded flat offers up 72 cubic feet of lockable cargo space, considerably more than behind the middle row in a Chevy Tahoe SUV. But plan on a lot of AC use in warm climes, as the only vents in back are on the floor.
We found the seats quite comfortable and widely adjustable, whether in the buckets or the front bench split 40/20/40. The seat cushion and backrest adjust as a unit, unlike the separate component approach that makes you go back-and-forth to get both pieces where you like. Lateral support is notably improved over earlier models without adding any difficulty to entry and exit. Big 4WD trucks are by design tall but side steps are available. Power adjustable pedals are available that combine with a tilt wheel and power seat adjustments to accommodate most of the population. You can even get a heated steering wheel and ventilated cooling front seats to maximize driver comfort.
Instrumentation is complete with oil pressure and battery information. On diesels, all the ancillary gauges are numbered. The center dash Electronic Vehicle Information Display can call up transmission temperature and tire pressures (2500 only) among the slew of data, adjustments and messages; ours told us to clean already-dusty rear park sensors rolling down a dry highway so we opted to wait. We were pleased to find EVIC, navigation, audio and brake controller displays were all easily viewed through polarized lenses. The EVIC is run through buttons on the front side steering wheel spokes; the back side of the spokes is reserved for audio system functions.
Switchgear is straightforward, with audio and navigation controls above climate controls in the center stack, plus operating controls for the Tow/Haul mode, exhaust brake and so on. The Light Tire Load switch on 2500 models allows you to set the tire pressure in the rear tires on an unloaded 2500 notably lower than the front, for better wear and ride comfort without the low tire pressure warning light coming on. On electric-shift 4WDs the switch is on the left side of the center panel and includes a Neutral position for being flat-towed. The trailer brake controller is below the headlight switch to the left about knee-high, and some drivers reported the steering wheel partially obscured it.
Side pillars are larger than in some cars but you sit far enough back that they don't intimidate. The bodywork is reasonably well defined for close quarter maneuvering by new-truck standards, and the rear park sensors and/or camera will get you within inches.
Interior storage is extensive with forty-odd places to put things of myriad sizes. Upper and lower door pockets are complemented by a variety of shapes from the broad tray on the dash that we emptied on the first corner to the under-floor storage areas behind the front seats; you can't reach these from the driver's seat but the liners are removable for cleaning and locks are available.
The audio and entertainment systems bring plenty of options and sonic performance that benefits from a relatively quiet interior. Partial credit must go to the noise and vibration tuning that includes liquid-filled body mounts that helps make this the quietest Ram heavy-duty yet without adding much weight.
Once accustomed to the outside dimensions, the Ram HD is not hard to drive. You need to allow a bit more space for stopping distance than the average car but that's easy given the visibility from the higher driving position. The steering is reasonably quick, and the 4WD's steering feels almost as good as that on the independently sprung 2WD. You'll be twisting the wheel more than a car to make the same turn, and the Ram changes direction easily and we couldn't overwhelm the steering pump (making it sluggish and heavy) in parking lot maneuvering or threading a 4WD through mud, trees and rock.
There are good reasons why many enthusiast magazines don't do handling tests on HD pickups because handling is a relative term. The Ram changes directions admirably and has predictable characteristics, but start horseplay in a vehicle where the rear axle alone weighs as much as a big Harley and you'll learn the hard way what those strange terms on NASCAR broadcasts mean.
What stands out the most on the current Ram is the quiet and ride smoothness, which have come a long way since the pre 2009 models. We found all three cabs quiet and solid, but the Crew Cabs and Mega Cabs were superior and nearly shudder free. Part of this solid feel is suspension tuning and part of the smoothness is the advanced body mounting system.
There is now no single aspect of the truck that will wear you out. At 75 mph on moderately good pavement we floored the pedal on a diesel and the engine wasn't heard over the road noise and wind noise wasn't heard above either. We could still converse in regular tones, even with riders in the rear seat. Since it revs higher, the Hemi comes across no quieter than the diesel except at cold idle.
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is available only on 2500 and with an automatic transmission. The Hemi develops 383 horsepower at 5600 rpm and, like any good truck engine, it makes more torque than horsepower, with 400 pound-feet at 4000 rpm.
The new 6-speed automatic transmission should improve acceleration, in-town economy and mid-level climbing performance more than highway fuel economy. We could cruise along at moderate rpm doing Texas highway speeds and although the Hemi has cylinder deactivation for improved mileage it won't happen much in a 4WD pickup with the aero package of a houseboat and more than three tons' weight. We would expect everyday mileage in the low-double digits, and be happy to reach the teens before getting on a highway. The Hemi is a realistic choice for those not towing severe loads, or heavy loads for long distances, where purchase price is a more important consideration than towing performance, fuel economy or maximum engine life.
The Cummins Turbo Diesel is a proven option. Both Ford and GM have newer diesel engines, and both of them require the use of diesel exhaust fluid (aka urea or trade names such as AdBlue) at regular maintenance intervals. The extra convenience of not having to add the fluid to the Cummins is usually offset by slightly lower fuel economy. (Cab-and-chassis diesel Rams require the additive.) Ram 2500's diesel option costs about $7,200 total. Since the engine is essentially the same as last year's and does not require the added costs associated with urea, it should remain the best buy in diesel options. Ford's and GM's 2012 diesels both offer more rated horsepower than the Ram and should be quicker.
Diesel buyers get a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, both 6-speed. Both are rated at 350 hp, but the manual is rated at 650 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm and the automatic at 800 lb-ft. The automatic also offers shorter axle ratios and given electronic control of the gearing, higher tow ratings. Either transmission gets the job done, the manual providing maximum control and minimum prices, the automatic more convenient. The exhaust brake makes grades and slowing stress-free by delivering up to 190 braking horsepower (bhp) to control descent speed, thereby leaving the service brakes cool and free for more immediate stopping.
The Cummins inline six-cylinder is built like a tractor-trailer engine, with exceptional robustness, longevity and low-rpm grunt, and frequently used in fire apparatus and motorhomes that carry 2-10 times what a Ram pickup will. Torque is what gets a load in motion, and with the Cummins making nearly as much torque when you let the clutch out as the Hemi does at 4000 rpm, it is the obvious choice for heavy towing. Many RVers report better fuel mileage towing with their Cummins than a Hemi gets in an empty truck. On essentially the same drive that saw 12.2 mpg in a Hemi 2500, we recorded about 16.5 mpg in a 1000-pounds-heavier, dual-rear-wheel Cummins automatic.
For 2012, Ram has made the integrated trailer brake controller standard on all but ST. In our trailer drives, the system worked as it should, as smooth or smoother than the most expensive aftermarket controllers. Like most such systems it may not be compatible with all electric-over-hydraulic trailer brakes becoming more common on upper-end and heavier RV's. A fifth-wheel plug arrangement is available from Mopar and will maintain the warranty when properly installed.
The Power Wagon needs to be considered a separate model based not only on equipment but also performance. It comes only with the 383-hp 5.7 gas engine and 6-speed automatic, but with shorter gears that maintain performance with the big tires. Locking differentials and a front antisway bar disconnect give low-speed off-highway performance no 3/4-ton pickup can match. It's also quite good at speed across a gravel road or dry wash, though not a direct match for Ford's F-150 Raptor, which costs about the same with the 411-hp 6.2-liter engine, has a regular or Crew Cab, but offers roughly 80 percent of the payload and towing capacity of a Power Wagon.
With the MaxTow package and torque bump on the diesel, the top ratings for the Ram are 22,750 trailer and 30,100 combined. Tow ratings for the Ram HD range from 8900 pounds to 22,750; adding a larger cab, more lux or 4WD will tend to lower the tow rating.
Maximum payload varies by similar parameters although sometimes the 4WD version carries more. Load capacity runs from 1590 pounds (a 2WD MegaCab 2500 Laramie Limited diesel) to 5180 pounds (2WD regular cab long bed 3500 dually).
Note that virtually all pickup truck tow ratings apply to a truck with a driver and only the mechanical options required; any cargo, people, or aftermarket equipment on board (winch, tool box, fifth-wheel hitch, etc.) will have to be subtracted from the max ratings. Double-check everything if you will be pushing the limits: According to the 2012 Ram Towing Guide our test-drive truck had a GCWR (truck, trailer, cargo, people) of 17,000 pounds, could tow a 10,500-pound trailer maximum and weighed 6,366 pounds; that leaves 134 pounds for a driver.
We tested a Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab by towing our 20-foot enclosed test trailer loaded to about 6,000 pounds total weight, from Los Angeles to San Diego and back. We found the Ram 3500 comfortable, smooth and supremely stable. It was completely unaffected by crosswinds or passing semi-trailers. We had no trouble stopping, and the integrated brake controller made life easy and worked flawlessly. The Cummins supplied easy power. We hardly knew a trailer was behind us. In short, we think this is a wonderful tow vehicle ready for big, cross-country pulls.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after test drives in Texas and California; with Mitch McCullough reporting from San Diego.
Model as tested
Dodge Ram 2500 Crew Cab Laramie short bed 4WD ($44,950)
3 years/36,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
leather-trimmed bucket seats ($500); rear park assist ($500); anti-spin rear differential ($325)
Model Line Overview
Ram 2500 ST 2WD regular cab long bed ($28,660); 2500 SLT 4WD Crew Cab short bed ($39,745); 2500 Laramie 2WD Crew Cab long bed ($41,935); 2500 SLT Mega Cab 4WD short bed ($40,745); Power Wagon ($41,855); 3500 ST 2WD regular cab long bed ($36,800); 3500 SLT 4WD Crew Cab long bed ($48,735); 3500 Laramie 4WD Limited Mega Cab ($58,645)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front multi-stage airbags, side curtain airbags, adjustable height front belts, LATCH child-seat anchors, child-protection rear door locks, anti-lock brakes on all wheels, and tire-pressure monitors (2500 only).
Safety equipment (optional)
5.7-liter ohv V8
Specifications as Tested
leather power heated 40/20/40 bench seat; dual-zone climate control; power windows/locks/heated auto-dimming mirrors; driver memory system; polished aluminum wheels; Class IV hitch and 4/7-pin plugs; AM/FM/CD/DVD/HDD/MP3/Sirius stereo; HomeLink; locking tailgate; tilt steering wheel; trailer brake controller; power sliding rear window; 34-gallon fuel tank; rear park assist
Engine & Transmission
5.7-liter ohv V8
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
383 @ 5600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
live axle, leaf springs
live axle, four-link, Panhard rod, coil springs, antisway bar
live axle, leaf springs
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear